Intel Core i9 7980XE / 7960X review: Intel back in the lead with 18 cores

New Skylake-X processors go up against AMD Threadripper

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Introduction

After their announcement they are officially available now: the Intel Skylake-X processors that, depending on the model, offer 12 or up to 18 cores. With this, Intel takes a step in the high-end consumer market that would have been unthinkable a year ago, at least on paper. We tested the 16- and 18-core models to find out how they perform - and whether or not Intel can regain their old position, which was taken over with a rather heavy blow after the introduction of Threadripper. 


Because oof, that must have hurt: the introduction of AMD's Threadripper high-end desktop processors meant that after years it was no longer Intel, but AMD at the top of the charts of many CPU-benchmarks on tech sites, including Hardware.Info. The AMD Threadripper 1950X with 16 cores turned out to be clearly faster in modern, multi-threaded workloads compared with the new top model that Intel introduced a few weeks prior: the 10-core Core i9 7900X from the Skylake-X family. 

With the announcement of Skylake-X, Intel clearly stated they would not leave it at 10 cores: they would also release models with 12, 14, 16 and even 18 cores. Their release was earlier this week; for this review we tested the 18-core Core i9 7980XE and 16-core Core i9 7960X. Of course the thousand-dollar-question is: does Intel regain the lead? 

Response to competition

The introduced processors are clearly a response to the competition of AMD. The original Intel roadmaps did not show these CPUs at all; nothing indicated that Intel would offer more than a maximum of 10 cores for the desktop. They did not have any reason to: this was more than enough to keep the regular 8-core Ryzen processors at a large distance. Furthermore there was the risk that desktop-chips with even more cores would cannibalize the sales of the more expensive Xeon workstation- and server processors. 

Threadripper, wherein AMD uses two 8-core Ryzen chips and combines them into a single CPU, will at the very least have come as a surprise to Intel. However the company did not take long to formulate a response. As we know, Intel's high-end desktop processors are always derived of the Xeon server models; in the case of Skylake-X CPUs we are talking about the Xeon Platinum Skylake-SP chips. Intel developed three different chips for these Xeon-chips, with a maximum of 28, 18 and 10 cores respectively. Originally the objective was to only use the LCC (Low Core Count) model for the desktop. Therefore, this chip is the basis for the already introduced Core i7 7800X, i7 7820X and i9 7900X. The chips that Intel introduced earlier this week are based on the HCC (High Core Count) chip and offer up to and including 18 cores. To be clear: in contrast with AMD Threadripper we are talking about monolithic CPUs, with all cores and caches in a single chip. If you are still hoping for a Skylake-X processor with a maximum of 28 cores based on the so-called XCC (eXtreme Core Count) die, you should probably give up that hope. This XCC-die is exclusively meant for the server platform. 

The danger of cannibalization of the Xeon-line of course still exists, which is why Intel is asking truly exorbitant prices for their new CPUs. The 18-core top model Core i9 7980XE has an MSRP of - hold onto something - $ 1999 and will cost more than 2000 euros in Europe. The other models are not exactly cheap either, with prices ranging from $ 1199 to $ 1699. For comparison: AMD's 16-core top model Threadripper 1950X processor has about half the price of Intel's 18-core top model. 


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